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Weekly Blog

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Different Activity Fair

We took a table at the Stanford Activities Fair in White Plaza last Friday, from 12-4 PM. This time, it was a different activity fair for us. Our focus was to find ways of serving the community, and two voluntary activities that took place in this spirit were the distribution of an orientation document (Mental Muscle) and wisdom scrolls.

Wisdom scrolls have their genesis in Wednesdays, and are a really cool gift to pass out. They are inspirational quotes printed artistically, without any organization name on it. A mail to Viral and Pavi (from CharityFocus) and we received the entire set of quotes without any questions asked. Hafiz (from CharityFocus) shared his experience with the logistics of printing it. Varun and Sundar gifted their time to obtain funding and print out the orientation document and the scrolls. As an aside, it turns out that Sarvodaya is the first group to have requested for funding for an activity in the Activity Fair :).

On Friday, when the scrolls finally arrived at the table, it turned out that we didn't have enough time to roll all of them. Sundar hit upon a brilliant idea - we could give people the opportunity to roll scrolls as a way to pay-it-forward to the next person who visits our table. The first four to do this were MS&E Phd students. When management science meets compassion, impressive results follow. One of the Phd students (Lauren) gave us the gift of her attention to efficiency and pointed out that we should cut all the ribbons in advance so people can quickly tie up the scrolls. It made sense - and we started cutting. She then led the others in rolling enough scrolls to fill up our box!

As people started stopping by, we realized that we didn't want to talk about Sarvodaya, and yet, we had a sign-up sheet on the table. At one point, we thought we had to step it up. So we turned the sign-up sheet upside down, and made a decision not to mention signups at all, unless our visitor asked for it explicitly. The moment we made this decision, there was so much relief to be felt - we could focus on just giving.

Many stories emerged. An elderly lady stopped to give us a gift. We tagged her back with a scroll, and described the idea as "doing small things with great heart." She was so touched by it that she nodded, "that's what really counts," and left in tears.

Just when the sun couldn't shine any brighter, Audrey showed up with a pack of 6 chilled bottles of water so we could quench our thirst. We weren't expecting it - and were thrilled! We consumed two, and decided to gift the rest.

The afternoon was also an afternoon of discovery. We were placed in the community service section, and we proceeded to tag the people at the tables around us with wisdom scrolls, offering to support their activities whenever they needed help. Michael discovered a group called Project Love, which has a mission similar to ours. We tagged them of course, and have asked them to count on us for help.

Here are some thoughts shared by Sarvodaya volunteers at the table.

Sundar Chandrasekaran:
Setting up the Sarvodaya table representing “Gandhi and King’s Community” on campus is one of the beautiful instances that I will always remember, whenever I flip through the pages of my life at Stanford. Handing out wisdom scrolls and the orientation document to the new incoming students was really wonderful. What was more fulfilling to me was to see these simple gifts bring a smile on their face and touch their hearts’. Many appreciated the concept of “Pay it Forward” and jumped at the opportunity to participate by rolling up these wisdom scrolls and putting them in the box, to be received by some stranger they may never meet!

When Somik told me that there was an elderly women who started crying after experiencing the whole package of “Random Acts of Kindness” at our table, I was stunned to see the phenomenal impact of reaching directly to a person’s soul. I got to experience this myself when I was visiting other tables, randomly tagging people with our gifts. I came across some other group’s table where a girl from China was standing all alone. I went near her and said “I have a gift for you! It has no organization's name on it and it is just a random act of kindness!!”. She asked me if she could open it, and after reading the inspiring thought was so overwhelmed that she was choking and could not express her feelings. I’m sure that moment made her day and in-turn it made mine too. This got her interested in knowing about what organization I belonged to and what my group did. I could really see the pull of such simple acts of kindness! That day, I even got an opportunity to have my lunch while serving people in this manner and my food tasted better! The activities fair had a truly profound impact on me…

Kapeesh Saraf:
When I reached the activity fair, I met Sundar who was glowing from performing simple act of kindness - distributing the "Wisdom scrolls" to random strangers. He seemed to be reveling in a sense of fulfilment from the service he was performing. I was a little surprised by this. I was aware how good these simple kindnesses and gifts can make one feel, but maybe because I hadn't done something like that myself in a while, I couldn't quite get it.

After a while, I picked up a couple of water bottles (at Somik's insistence) and decided to look for people who looked thirsty. I found a couple of people sitting at a table in the activities fair with empty bottles in front of them. I walked up, told them what I was doing and gave them the water bottles. They were pleasantly surprised by this, and it was cool to see them smile and appreciate the gesture. In that sense, the power of random acts of kindness did dawn upon me.

On a more philosophical note, living in India for so long has inured me to not being too nice to random people. The concept of just doing small acts of goodness and letting the message spread does seem like a beautiful one. I don't (yet) believe that this is the only or best way to create value or change in the world. On the contrary, these small acts of kindness sometimes make us feel that we are doing more than our fair share of goodness and keep us from engaging more intensely in helping those in need.

That said, it sure as hell is good to just be nice!

Michael Zeligs:
Read Michael's inspiring post here and feel free to respond on our mailing list.


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